Keepon is yellow and round and it will make you smile.

Okay it doesn’t hurt that it’s paired with a catchy tune. Still, I’ll bet you can’t play this only once.

But Keepon, the little yellow spongiform “peeps” looking robot, was developed with a more serious side – dealing with autism.

Keepon was created by Marek Michalowski at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US, and Hideki Kozima of the National Institute of Communications Technology (NICT) in Japan to be a less robotic, robot. And as the video above shows it would be hard to find a more engaging, human friendly robot. Which is why Keepon is one of many new robots being employed by researchers to study and possibly provide therapy to children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

From Robots to Fight Autism:

Children with ASD often have trouble with the “dance” of body language and facial gestures needed to have successful conversations and social contact with others. Both reading the intentions of others and knowing their own emotions can be a struggle, and children often become stranded both emotionally and socially.

One baby in every 150 born today in the U.S. is diagnosed with ASD. Treatment involves a combination of therapies — behavioral, educational, physical, occupational, and speech — that is costly and not always effective. After finding that children with ASD interact more easily with robots than with people, researchers began developing expressive and interactive robots that can assist them in studying and creating effective therapy for the children.

Keepon’s gentle boogieing and its simple, innocuous appearance (five inches tall, rubbery, resembling two tennis balls stacked one on top of the other) make it perfect for interacting with socially withdrawn children. Armless and legless and only possessing two eyes and a nose, Keepon expresses itself mainly through its four movements: nodding, turning, rocking and bobbing.

However, Keepon does have a camera behind those eyes and a microphone hidden in its nose. Researchers Michalowski and Kozima have studied preschool children with ASD in Japan and have found that interacting with the robots draws the children into a range of new social behaviors. Videos of those encounters show the children feeding Keepon imaginary food, giving it imaginary medicine when it has a Band-Aid on its head, and protecting it against abuse by other children.

The most striking video shows one girl slowly forging a relationship with the robot. At first she refuses to even directly look at Keepon, but as the days go on, she draws closer to the robot, eventually touching it with a xylophone stick, then her hand. After weeks, she can be seen looking into Keepon’s eyes, putting a hat on it, and even giving it a kiss, an action she rarely performed even towards her own mother.

Here is the original YouTube video of Keepon that created a bit of a sensation in 2007.
And a great video of keeper Marek Michalowski explaining Keepon’s motions and capabilities.

So what made you smile today?

Also posted at No Quarter

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